GENUINE reports of rape are not being recognised as a crime by Cheshire Police, meaning victims may not be supported, according to a critical report published today.
An inspection into crime data integrity by HMIC has highlighted how the force wrongly records some violent and sexual offences as 'no-crime'.
'No-crime' refers to an incident that was 'initially recorded as a crime, but was then decided not to be'.
Of 71 cases reviewed, inspectors found 29 incidents of rape, robbery, and violence that should have been recorded as a crime, were recorded as 'no-crime', meaning the investigation ended.
Of 30 rape cases, 14 had been incorrectly recorded as 'no-crime', with 'opinion' relied upon, instead of 'veritable information'.
"This is a significant cause for concern and is a matter of material and urgent importance," said the report.
"Immediately, the force should ensure guidance is provided to officers and staff who are engaged in no-crime decisions."
HMIC said the audit failure may mean rape victims are not supported properly.
Other rape cases had been recorded late, while some rape reports had not been recorded as a crime, but closed as a 'crime-related incident'.
"This is a serious issue which precludes the force from having a clear picture of all offending that is occurring in the force area, more importantly the service and support made available to the victim may not always be what it should be," said the report.
It also found issues such as mental health and alcohol dependency can have a 'negative influence' on investigating a rape, delaying or stopping a crime from being recorded.
"This is not acceptable," said HMIC. A review of how rape reports are managed was instructed.
Cheshire Police has no policy on how crime should be recorded, instead relying on legal rules set by the government's National Crime Recording Standard and Home Office Counting Rules.
HMIC ordered a crime recording policy be introduced immediately, and also highlighted ' significant concerns' over how cases of domestic violence are handled. Some cases referred to police by specialist agencies were wrongly not recognised as crimes.
And problems with victim support was also highlighted in the inspection.
HMIC found victims were not consulted enough on punishments given to offenders when the case did not reach court.
Police have the power to punish criminals with a caution, penalty notice, warning or community resolution such as a letter of apology - known as 'out of court disposals'.
Of 80 cases reviewed, only 26 of 45 victims were consulted on the suitability of the 'out of court' punishment. In the case of disorder, only four of 14 victims were consulted.
"Immediately, the force should take steps to ensure...the views of the victim in respect of the use of the disposal are considered properly and adequately," said HMIC.
Crime is expected to be recorded as soon as possible, or at least within 24 hours, at Cheshire Police.
The wider accuracy of how crime is recorded was questioned, particularly when carried out by individual officers, with HMIC reviewing 96 incident records.
Of the 92 crimes that should have been recorded, only 62 were. Of the 62, four were wrongly classified, and 19 were recorded outside the 72-hour limit allowed under Home Office guidelines.
"There is need for improvement in the accuracy and timeliness of crime recording decisions," the report added.
Reacting to the inspection, Ass Chf Con Guy Hindle, from Cheshire Police, said: "Following an internal review Cheshire Constabulary has already taken action to address some of the main recommendations highlighted within the report.
"However, we recognise that there may have been issues in the administration of certain types of crime, specifically violence and sexual offences where the details of the crime can often be complex which can make the recording of the crime complicated.
"Having had the issues highlighted by HMIC we have undergone a review of the crimes incorrectly classified to ensure thorough investigations have taken place and their classifications have now been changed.
"It is important to stress that HMIC questioned the administration process of recording the crimes at fault, not the investigations into them."
John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, said he would ensure recommendations of the inspection were met.